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Tampa Bay Rays players ready to embrace veterans Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon

TAMPA — The expected additions of Manny Ramirez and Johnny Damon will require some strategizing among the Rays.

Manager Joe Maddon, for example, will undoubtedly consider multiple permutations before deciding on how high in the order to hit Damon and whether to slot Ramirez in the cleanup hole with Evan Longoria third or drop them both a spot.

Outfielder Matt Joyce is weighing a different question: whether to ask home clubhouse manager Chris Westmoreland for a locker next to Ramirez to better enjoy the anticipated show or to keep a safe distance. Also, whether to get a Manny-style dreadlocks wig and wear it on the field or wait to see if there's a Dress Like Manny road trip.

"You never know what he's going to come up with next," Joyce said. "That's the great thing about Manny; he brings something new to the field and he makes it exciting and fun and fresh. So we're going to have fun with it. And that's what the Rays love to do."

As a half-dozen Rays (plus senior adviser Don Zimmer and former teammates Matt Garza and Toby Hall) gathered at Splitsville on Monday night for B.J. Upton's charity bowling event to benefit the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, the common theme was that they expect Ramirez and, to only a slightly lesser degree, Damon to add a lot — though they're not exactly sure what — to their club and their clubhouse.

"We'll see," pitcher David Price said. "I guess it's Manny being Manny — I don't know. I feel like he'll fit in just fine in our locker room."

"I think they're going to fit in great," Upton said. "Obviously Manny's a lot of fun, and from what I hear, Johnny Damon is the same way, and that fits right in our clubhouse and our style of play. We want to have fun … and with those two guys in the clubhouse, it's going to be a lot of fun this year."

The two veterans, whose signings aren't expected to be finalized and announced until next week, will be welcomed primarily for the boost they'll provide the offense. Ramirez's .870 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages), even in a down 2010 season, was better than all Rays but Longoria (.879), and Damon's .355 on-base percentage was one point lower than Carl Crawford, whom he will be replacing in leftfield.

But they'll also be welcomed for the leadership they can provide, after the loss of Carlos Peña, Crawford and other veterans among the 11 players who have left the team since the end of the season.

"It kinda reminds me a little bit of '08 — you bring two veterans in (Cliff Floyd and Eric Hinske then) that could just change the whole complexion of the clubhouse," Upton said. "I think we have a good idea of what they're going to do on the field, but I think the biggest thing for us is having so many young guys and bringing in two guys of their stature, guys that have played in the AL East for so long, to have Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez in our clubhouse I think is great for our ballclub."

Upton has had a special spot for Ramirez since making his Aug. 2, 2004, major-league debut as a 19-year-old, when, playing shortstop, he snagged a Ramirez line drive and after the game found Ramirez's bat, autographed, waiting in his locker. Price recalls fondly how Damon was the first established big-league opponent to introduce himself during a spring 2008 game.

And he said you just had to see the texts he got from other Rays to know how excited they are to have the two veterans as teammates.

"Good for them," said Garza, who was traded to the Cubs. "Whatever helps. I was like, 'Man, we couldn't get them last year?' "

Marc Topkin can reached at topkin@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays players ready to embrace veterans Manny Ramirez, Johnny Damon 01/24/11 [Last modified: Monday, January 24, 2011 11:22pm]
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